The winning camel gets its neck and head covered with saffron, as a sign of honor after completing the race near Abu Dhabi, UAE.
This ongoing essay shot at the Al Wathba race track near Abu Dhabi during the finale week of the racing season in March 2014 aims to depict one of the oldest, yet very active parts of the Emirati and Arab tradition: the camel race. A flourishing industry, camel races serve as a social gathering for many locals and curious visitors. While betting is illegal in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in accordance to the Islamic texts, significant money prizes and endowments, such as brand new SUVs are given away to the winning owners as incentives.
Underage, lightweight jockeys traditionally mounted the finest racing camels, in order to achieve a top speed. The rise in popularity of this prosperous industry had a perverse effect, by increasing child trafficking, originating from South Asia and Africa. Following the international strain stemming from human rights activists, the UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan signed in 2005 the Law No.15, banning the employment of underage camel jockeys. As a substitute, small and inexpensive remote controlled robots can now be found mounted on the humps of the camels. According tp the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), more than a thousand children received assistance from local authorities and organizations before being repatriated to their home countries.
In the Gulf Region, camel racing can be traced back to as early as the Islamic period.
Portrait of a camel handler in the shadow of his animal before the starting line. Many are hailing from South Asia and Africa.
Small robots are now mounted on the camel humps to replace children jockeys.
Camel facing a flag with the portrait of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, one of the founding fathers of the UAE Nation.
Two staff members monitoring the start line at Al Wathba Camel Track in Abu Dhabi.
In the UAE, the racing season falls in the cooler months between October and March. Races take place three to five days a week, twice a day.
Owners accompany the camels along the side road to remotely control the robotic jockeys, through the horns and cheers.
In the UAE, the tracks are usually between 4km and 10km long depending on the size and age of the camels. Camels can speed up to 65km/h (40mph).
Camel handlers are anxiously watching the race, while waiting for their camels at the finish line.
Local spectators and visitors can watch the race on an outdoor screen from their SUVs, while enjoying some arabic tea.
A camel handler and his winning camel at the Al Wathba track in Abu Dhabi.
Camel races are a sport commonly attented by men.
Radio-controlled robots have replaced children jockeys since the 2005 ban of underage camel racers in the Emirates.
In the early morning light, camels get prepped for the next round. Camel racing is a popular sport in the UAE, Oman, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
Christophe Viseux is a freelance photographer based between Paris and Dubai.